Book Discussion: Educated: a memoir by Tara Westover

My book club met this week and we had read Educated.  Although I found the book interesting and Westover an engaging writer, certain aspects of the book were disappointing.  First, it bears more than a passing resemblance to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This is not a reason not to read it, of course, but I wonder a couple of things.  

**How many memoirs by abused/neglected children of poverty in dysfunctional families do we need? This is not to minimize anyone’s suffering, nor to object to a light being shown on aspects of the American experience that need more attention. At what point do we become callused to the horrific stories of the children who managed to escape?

** As has been noticed before, America loves an underdog. We love to read/hear/watch the stories of people who made it against the odds, because it means that anything is possible for anyone in America.  It means that if you have the gumption/grit/intelligence, you, too, can succeed. However, we like to ignore the fact that those who manage to succeed are really outliers. There are plenty of smart, determined people who don’t make it.  They don’t have the lucky break, the mentor, the roommate/sibling/friend who helped them defeat the odds. It is true that the story arc would be more challenging and the ending less neat, but what if someone wrote a memoir about being one of the unlucky ones?  Would it even get published and if it did, would anyone read it?

**Then I saw this article in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/opinion/vance-westover-trump.html and I was more than a little insulted.  I live in rural America and I grow weary of East Coast Entitled Intellectual Elites lumping all of us in “flyover country” together as if we were one large basket of dummies.  If we would just be more like Tara and J. D., we would get a clue and our lives would be great. No worries about money, jobs, dying small towns, etc. Newsflash: it isn’t that simple.  Shocker: some of us are actually educated; we aren’t all rubes and survivalists. And some of us are REALLY tired of being condescended to. Life is complicated, and we didn’t all get the brass ring…but I digress. All of rural culture isn’t toxic, and by the way that word is totally overused.

Here are some discussion questions to think about if you or your book club are reading Educated.

  1. How much do you think is left out of the story?  Do you think there was physical abuse of Tara’s mother?  Why or why not?
  2. Why did the family continue to allow Shawn’s obvious abuse and violence? What would have been the price of  speaking up?
  3. When Tara’s father brings home the shearer, one of her brothers refuses to run it before Tara is ordered to do so.  Why did he feel able to refuse their father and Tara did not?
  4. Why do you think Tara was so reluctant to get help once she got to BYU? Why did her professor push her to apply for the program in Cambridge?
  5. Imagine an alternate ending to this story.  What would your alternate ending be?

The Year of Reading Dangerously Begins…

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For 2019, the theme of the Jane Austen Society of North America will be Northanger Abbey.  Since Northanger Abbey is a book largely concerned with reading, and especially a certain type of reading, I have decided to try to read as many of the Gothic and other novels mentioned or referenced in Northanger Abbey as possible, hence The Year of Reading Dangerously: in which I read the Gothic novels referenced in Northanger Abbey and live to tell the tale.

I began my quest by re-reading Northanger Abbey and I enjoyed it immensely. This time through, I found Catherine much more engaging and less silly.  Likewise, Henry grows in my estimation as an Austen hero. I quite like him and his sense of humor. I find his wit droll and I appreciate the fact that he is comfortable enough with his masculinity to discuss textiles authoritatively. Henry’s best asset is his sense of humor.  One of his gems is, “Promised so faithfully!–A faithful promise!–That puzzles me.–I have heard of a faithful performance. But a faithful promise–the fidelity of promising!” (p. 144 in the Oxford World’s Classic edition) I am not ashamed to admit to chuckling whilst reading. I am sure my husband thought I was going mad, but then again probably not.  I re-read Austen regularly and there are other books which have been known to bring up a laugh as well.

To help me on my journey, I have enlisted Angela Wright and her volume, entitled, Britain, France and the Gothic, 1764-1820: the import of terror. I must say that I find it slightly ironic that she has opted out of the Oxford comma in her title,which is published by Cambridge University Press.  Perhaps CUP doesn’t allow the Oxford comma? In any case, I am about halfway through and I am finding the essays insightful and helpful, especially as the first one is about Horace Walpole and The Castle of Otranto.  I am midway through The Castle of Otranto; I chose to read it first after Northanger Abbey, because Walpole’s slim novel is often credited with bringing the Gothic to Britain.  

Feel free to throw caution to the wind, and join me as I read some hair-raising Gothic Stories!

Welcome to Readerly!

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There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. — Henry James

If you enjoy the company of a great book with a cuppa, you have come to the right place.  Having spent some time on a book selection committee, I have learned that life is too short for terrible books!  Toward that end, I will be exploring well-loved classics and new classics here at Readerly.  I will strive to give you recommendations you can count on–as a librarian, I take reader’s advisory seriously.  I have been reviewing books for over twenty years; my areas of interest include Classics, like Jane Austen and our friend Henry James above, Thrillers, Mysteries, Literary Fiction, Literary Nonfiction, History, True Crime, Baking, and more.

On our journey together, there will be tea…I am an unapologetic Anglophile, so tea is important, as well as “tea things.”  As every teatotaler knows, there is a correct way to prepare tea, and we will adhere to that. I do, however, admit to using lemon rather than milk, mostly because I like lemon.

I hope you will join me in forming a book club for tea drinkers.  Pinkies up!